Dick Huffman wasn't alone as he crossed the stage in the Overland High School auditorium.
Decked in his full Army uniform, Huffman was among the dozens of service members honored during the school's Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 7. Huffman, who served with the 7th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in Korea from 1950 to 1951, joined active and retired members of the Marines, Air Force and Navy. He shared the stage with veterans who served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. He chatted with active military members, and sat alongside current employees of the Cherry Creek School District whose résumés include stints in all branches of the U.S. military.
The capacity crowd gathered in the auditorium cheered as administrators called each of these veteran's names; Huffman was among the dozens who strode proudly across the stage to receive miniature American flags and commemorative awards.
But that diverse crowd of vets weren't the only ones who joined Huffman at the school's annual event. Huffman paused in his progress across the stage to pay tribute to his fallen absent brothers-in-arms from the Korean War. He turned, addressed the crowd of hundreds and boldly declared, "I'm the only survivor." The audience responded with a respectful silence before breaking into overwhelming applause.
Receiving that kind of recognition from a crowd that included elementary, middle and high school students and their families is what Veterans Day is all about for Huffman.
"They need to hear these stories," Huffman said after the Overland ceremony. "I almost cried up on stage, but I have to be strong. I have to let these people know what we went through."
That's no small task for Huffman, an Arvada resident who still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder more than six decades after his service in the Korean War. It's no wonder – Huffman's war stories from the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter are filled with harrowing brushes with death.
But that didn't keep Huffman away. The event was about honoring those sacrifices, and Huffman was joined by plenty of other active and retired service members who offered the same kind of stories of bravery, determination and conviction.
"I had a duty, I had a job," said Martha Baker, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and the event's keynote speaker. "The rewards for pushing through the hard times are so worth it."
In a military career that spanned 20 years and took her to posts in Vietnam, Japan and Germany, Baker faced plenty of challenges. In addition to the inherent challenges that come with a military career, Baker had to overcome the racism and sexism that were a significant cultural force in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a steadfast commitment to her responsibilities and her country that saw Baker through the toughest moments of her career, and she stressed those qualities again and again during her speech.
"There were people who were against me and who didn't think I was fit to be an Army nurse," Baker said. "In response, I continued to do my job and do it well … If I had let them close the door on me, I would have missed out on such a wonderful life."
Both Huffman and Baker struck on similar themes of courage and determination during their interactions with a younger generation. They revisited painful memories to offer students, staff and parents alike a message that keeps its urgency year after year.
"You can change the world," Baker said. "You can't let life pass you by."